Justice Department Announces Expansion of Power to Address Antitrust Issues in Agriculture Sector – Agweek

Justice Department Announces Expansion of Power to Address Antitrust Issues in Agriculture Sector – Agweek

DEADWOOD, SD — The U.S. Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division announced June 21 that it will increase its resources and efforts to address antitrust issues in agriculture.

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Michael Kades, assistant attorney general in the antitrust division

Contributed

Michael Kades, assistant attorney general for the Antitrust Division, made the announcement at the R-CALF USA 2024 National Annual Convention in Deadwood, South Dakota.

“I am proud to announce today that we will be using our increased funding to establish an agriculture-focused enforcement team,” Kades told the audience. “This team will be based in Chicago, closer to you and the activities they will be policing. It will benefit from the leadership and commitment of our entire division. It will focus on tough cases and big changes.”

This new team, the first of its kind in the Midwest, will focus primarily on antitrust, competition and fairness issues within agricultural supply chains. The team will be responsible for enforcing laws related to agriculture.

Bill Bullard, executive director of R-CALF USA, said the announcement comes after years of encouragement from the last three administrations to aggressively enforce antitrust laws.

“We are pleased that the Justice Department has made this announcement. It is consistent with our view that unless we begin to enforce our antitrust laws, we will continue to see the number of cattle ranchers and ranchers across the country decline,” Bullard said. “The last census in 2022 revealed that we have lost another 107,000 independent cattle operations from our industry and are becoming a consolidated, vertically integrated industry, much like the hog and poultry industries. This is absolutely the wrong direction for the cattle industry.”

Bill Bullard

Bill Bullard is the general manager of R-CALF USA, based in Billings, Montana. Photo taken January 31, 2015 in Rapid City, South Dakota.

Agweek archive photo

Bullard said R-CALF will continue to provide evidence demonstrating serious problems in the beef and meatpacking industries.

“We have a very concentrated meatpacking industry that has enormous market power and needs to be rebalanced,” Bullard said. “We hope the Justice Department can achieve the balance needed to ensure that our independent livestock producers operate on a level playing field with the highly concentrated meatpackers.”

National Farmers Union President Rob Larew also expressed strong support for the Justice Department’s initiative.

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Rob Larew is the new president of the National Farmers Union.

(Photo by UNF)

“We appreciate the Department of Justice’s increased efforts to combat anticompetitive practices in the agricultural sector. This increased focus on antitrust enforcement is a critical step toward ensuring fair competition and protecting family farmers and ranchers,” Larew said in a statement. “The National Farmers Union’s Farmers for Fairness campaign is playing a critical role in highlighting these concerns, and it is encouraging to see such significant progress. Ensuring a competitive marketplace is critical to the success and sustainability of America’s family farmers.”

For decades, members of the South Dakota Farmers Union have joined the national Farmers Union to advocate for an investigation into agricultural market manipulation. In 2022 and 2023, the South Dakota Farmers Union brought a group of South Dakota cattle ranchers to Washington to meet with Kades. Kades attended the South Dakota Farmers Union state convention in 2023.

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Doug Sombke is president of the South Dakota Farmers Union and a four-generation Brown County cattle rancher.

Kennedy Tesch / Agweek

“Michael Kades stayed in South Dakota for a few extra days and met one-on-one with our members, visiting their livestock operations, feedlots and sale barns to hear their stories of the market manipulation they and their neighbors have witnessed,” South Dakota Farmers Union President Doug Sombke said in a statement. “This decision by the Department of Justice to increase staff dedicated to civil and criminal enforcement in the agricultural sector gives us hope that justice will prevail and a wrong will be righted.”

Kennedy is a reporter for Agweek and lives in South Dakota. She grew up on an organic farm where her family also raises livestock in eastern South Dakota. She graduated from South Dakota State University in 2023 with a major in agricultural communications and a minor in agricultural business. She enjoys connecting with area producers and agribusinesses while reporting on all things agriculture.